Fundamental Rights at Risk as French Government Requests Parliament to Extend State of Emergency

Today, the French Council of Ministers requested for the country’s state of emergency, which has been in place since the tragic attacks in Paris in November 2015, to be extended until a law on new judicial procedures—including the measures permitted by the state of emergency—is put into place. It’s set to expire on February 26. The French Senate will vote on the proposed extension on February 9, and then the National Assembly will do the same on February 16.

Government spokesperson Stéphane Le Foll called the state of emergency “useful in the struggle against terrorism.” He also noted that the threat of terrorism is “at an extremely high level,” and asserted that “the state of emergency is being applied with respect for the law.”

Human Rights First has called on the U.S. government to urge its French counterparts to reject an extension of the state of emergency, as well as any constitutional reforms that would compromise human rights, civil liberties, and equal treatment for all citizens.

Also today, the Council of Ministers discussed draft legislation that would allow the government to strip a person of French citizenship based on terrorism-related charges. The French government spokesperson had a contentious exchange with journalists about the precise phrasing of the text, refusing to indicate whether persons with dual nationality would be the only ones affected by this provision. He did clarify, however, that it would be up to the judge to decide in individual cases whether to include nationality-stripping as part of the punishments associated with a conviction. The judge could also decide to restrict other rights such as the right to vote.

It is still unclear exactly which terrorism-related convictions would put nationality-stripping on the table. Spokesperson Le Foll said today that it would include not only those who committed “terrorist acts” but also those who “participated in organizing” such acts; previous reports indicated that even convictions for some crimes classified as misdemeanors could lead to nationality-stripping. The French Minister of Justice resigned last week over concerns that this constitutional reform would run counter to France’s republican values and fuel societal divisions.

On Friday this week, the National Assembly will start to debate this bill, and a vote is expected on February 10. Human Rights First has raised the concern that this proposal would divide French society on grounds of national origin, giving credence to the troubling “clash of civilizations” narrative perpetuated by extremists. It would make it more difficult to build greater inclusiveness and tolerance in French society, and would cause polarization and conflict.

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Published on February 3, 2016

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